COMBINATION OF THE WORKING CLASSES.
Tax disposition of all crafts and trades to incorporate themselves is stamped with the prescriptive sanction of antiquity : in England, as in other countries, it is an ingredient in municipal institutions ; it has in various shapes helped the trading classes of Western Eu- rope to stem the power of aristocracy ; and it has aided in raising the middle class in England to become, in point of numbers, Me electoral class of the towns. Its motives were a mixture of good and bad—a desire to resist injury, to secure mutual benefit, and to monopolize advantages; • but, whatever objectionable purpose may have mixed with it, the desire for such combination has at all times proved too strong to be quelled, or even to prevent it from becoming an important element in the constitution of our country. Even some of the lowest workers have obtained a share in such privileges— as we recognize in the incorporated porters of London. The cus- tom of apprenticeship, which in some other trades throughout the country is very rigorous, extends the benefits of incorporation in a certain degree to the working members of such trades. But many new and more numerous branches of handicraft have sprung up with the modern system of manufactures ; and as the middle class have obtained power, they have sought to withhold it from the working class. The incorporation of handicrafts is probably an impediment to the minute division of employments, to the prompt adjustment of the numbers working to the quantity of work needed, to the facile adjustment of wages; but, from whatever cause, the combination of work-people in respect of their trade has been resisted by their employers. The inveterate spirit, however, could not be quashed : hence it became secret ; and the murderous outbreaks of the Glasgow cotton-spinners, to say nothing of perpetual com- motion in the English manufacturing districts, resulted from the hidden working of a scheme of organization that was not permitted to seethe light. Instead of engaging in the hopeless attempt to prevent combination, the object should have been, by permitting it, but forcing it to be open, to make it safe and subject to the control of law and of public opinion.
But supposing it possible, would it be desirable to suppress com- bination of the working class ? If division of employments, and its result, the rapid multiplication of manufactures, were the only means of social improvement—if the accumulation of wealth were the only end of existence—any thing which impeded the process would at first sight seem desirable to be abolished. But, granting to our industrial system all the merits that it can fairly claim, there is now no general opinion that it is unmixed good. Encouraged with too little question, the division of employments has contemplated ex- clusively the facility and completeness of mere mechanical pro- cesses : the comfort and welfare of the workman—except in some de- gree, perhaps, with reference to his skill and wages—have been over- looked. Had it been possible for the numerous races that people our factories to secure that extensive combination which exists among the mercantile and moneyed classes, the division of employ- ments might have been modified with a view to the comfort of the employed. We might not have surveyed such wondrous results of divided employment—patent pins might have lacked the astounding brilliancy of their polish, cotton cloth might have been a farthing dearer, manufacturing towns might not have been quite so thronged;
but, possibly, workmen might have had a little more choice as to the nature, duration, variation, and price of their work. Instead of being a mere " workshop of the world," our manufacturing dis-
tricts might have been less so than they are, but also something
else of a higher kind. Annul the will of the working class, com- plete the process which has been gradually converting them into
simple parts of machinery, and no one can tell what will be the end of our factory system, or what may become of the unhumanized millions : endow the working class with a stronger, more confident, and more definite will than they possess, and the evils of our fac- tory system receive an efficient, a gradual, and a safe check, which will limit without destroying. Such a fortifying of the will would be produced by a comprehensive and enlighted combination of the working classes.
It is therefore with much interest that we learn the formation of a society, which, although it falls far short of this notion as to what is required, is yet a considerable step in advance. It is de- scribed in the current number of The Artizan ; a monthly periodical, that does credit to the readers for whom it is published- " We must in the first place briefly indicate the necessities from which the Institute has arisen. The chief of these is the great want of employment, which in most trades, for some years past, has pressed upon the working man with such dreadful severity. The pressure of this evil induced some of the more respectable men of different trades, a considerable time ago, to unite in a
common effort to find employment for their unemployed fellow-workmen in other countries, every channel to employment in this country being already filled up. But they soon felt that the recommendation of men to foreign em- ployments was an act of much responsibility, and that it was quite impossible
that their recommendations could be indiscriminate if they wished them to continue efficient. In other words, it became plain, that if unemployed persons were to be recommended in their turn, and without reference to capacity, persons might be sent to fill situations to the duties of which they were un- equal ; the effect of which would be, that no person abroad would accept
the recommendations of the society, and their power of benefiting their
fellow-workmen would be entirely cut off. It was obvious, therefore, that their recommendations, to be either honest or to continue successful, must be re- stricted to persons whom they knew to be competent : and as it would be often
impossible to hold any examination, or ascertain the competency of a person at the exact juncture when he might be called to fill a situation, it became neces-
sary that these points should be ascertained beforehand, so that there might be no difficulty or delay. The election to situations would thus be exclusively made from persons who had already passed their probation, and whose compe- tency was sure : in other words, no one could be chosen who was not a member of a select society. That select society has by degrees expanded into the Arti- sans' Institute ; the members of which alone are eligible to be recommended to vacant situations."
The institution thus originating extended its objects, and be- came one for obtaining employment in this country as well .as abroad. The qualifications for membership are, the payment of Is. a month, good character, and competency in some handicraft- " The whole of the trades, the workmen in which are eligible to be admitted into the Institute, are arranged under the three great heads of the Mecha-
nical Arts, the Chemical Arts, and the Pine Arts. Of each of these great
branches there are numerous subdivisions. Thus, under the first head come the several trades of carpenters, masons, joiners, engineers, plumbers,
watchmakers, &c. Under the second head, we have the trades of dyers,
brewers, sugar-boilers, bakers, and, in fact, every trade the success of which depends on chemical principles. Under the last head, we have carvers and
gilder., ornamentists, painters, modellers, and every other trade, the highest branches of which must be reckoned among the fine arts. Most of the ope- rations under this last head which fall to the workmen to execute, are of course merely mechanical; but the classification is regulated by the highest
principles of the art, which are those towards which the workmen should aspire. Each trade has a Chairman, Secretary, and Committee of its own, and chosen by its own members, by which the selection for filling situations either abroad or in this country is made ; and the Chairmen of the several trades or sections constitute a Supreme Council, by which the general business of the Institute is conducted." • • • " The members of the several sections or trades of which the Institute con- sists are divided into grades or degrees, of which the lowest is merely proba- tionary ; and the highest is reserved as a special honour for those few persons who have attained the very highest eminence in science or art. Between these extremes there are two intermediate stages, the lower being representative of that degree of proficiency which appertains to a skilful workman • and the higher, of that greater measure of skill of which a foreman should be pos- sessed. In other words, these two degrees are the ranks from which work- men and foremen may be respectively recruited; and the Institute will not recommend for a situation of foreman any person who does not belong to the higher class. The higher class is elected from the lower class by the lower class itself; and those elections are only valid after the persons elected have undergone an examination touching their capacity by examiners appointed for that purpose. " Every section meets once a-week ; and it is a condition of becoming a member, that a paper shall be contributed yearly. to the particular section into which the election is made, treating of some point of practical interest to that section. These papers are read at the weekly meetings; and a discussion is afterwards held relative to their contents, when every member is entitled to state his opinions. From these discussions the greatest advantage is found to arise; for they all have a practical bearing, and the truth is generally elicited in the conflict. As moat of the members are necessarily deficient in literature, they are empowered to claim the aid of the Secretaries of their re- spective sections in drawing their papers up. The Secretaries, being all young men of good education, are perfectly competent to this task, and in every ease are eager to undertake it. " It has been enacted, that every person promoted to a situation by the Institute's instrumentality shall assign to the Institute the wages of that situation for a certain time, in consideration of the benefit the said person has received. The period of this assignment varies with the value of the situation which has been filled up : in the case of workmen, a week's wages is the most that is required ; but in the case of foremen or superintendents, situations of value, a month's wages may be demanded. These payments are not left to caprice or accident, but are regulated by a fixed scale, deter- mined on in full conclave; a month's wages being the utmost that in any case can be exacted. A large income is by these means realized for the Institute— not by the contributions of sceptical or unwilling subscribers, who, being already in constant employment, may be doubtful whether they will ever re- quire to avail themselves of the vacancies the Institute has at its disposal—but by the retention, for the benefit of the Institute, of a small portion of the bene- fits it confers."
This institution has been in operation about a year, and, it is said, with considerable success. We know nothing of it but what we learn in the pages of The Artizan : it may be one of the thousand mercenary speculations of the day ; it may be a covert attempt to multiply the old trading monopolies which have so much mischief mixed with the good ; it may be a germ of the grandest institution that the working class have yet achieved for themselves. Some of the results which the description suggests as aimed at are the best that could be imagined. The member will have a firmer " status" through the registration of his qualifications as a man of skill and good character ; more sure of employment, he will be less importu- nate for it on any terms, hence one check to the intense competi- tion in wages which enables the consciously bad workman to run against the good and beat down wages in an unequal bargain where bad work goes for the same terms as good ; deriving importance from his connexion with a powerful association, the workman will be placed on a more equal footing with the employer. The inter- communication of knowledge will increase the skill of each; and if managed properly, the Institute might be such a school for artisans as to elevate their callings to the rank of " professions "—some of which are really handicrafts with a theoretical and critical know- ledge : that is the only definable distinction between the profession of " architecture" and the trade of " building." Idealizing a sort of freemasonry among the French artisans, GEORGE SAND—whose writings are not more remarkable for their heedlessness of discretion than for the wholesale confounding of ideas in their readers which has caused them to be maligned—paints a cabinetmaker who be- comes inspired by the high principles of his craft with the most exalted aspirations towards the beautiful and orderly.* It is an idealism ; but the destitution of such feelings and ideas, which marks English artisans, is far more "unnatural" than the ultra- poetical hero in the novel. For man to become a tool in producing beauty, order, and fitness, without any beneficial influence from the exercise of his art, is to reduce him to the level of brutes, which look prone upon the ground, and to deprive him of his inheritance— the os sublime—raised to the stars. The artistic feeling not only consists in the contemplation of such beauty, and is the solace of all higher kinds of toil, but it ennobles every process carried on un- der its inspiration. It is needlessly and injuriously withheld from the English artisans, mainly by the ultra-mechanical arrangements for his toil. No branch of education could do so much for the workman as the awakening that high spirit.
But an Institute, such as the one in question might become, -would do much more for the practical benefit of the artisan. It might be a deliberative assembly to consider—we need not say, without legislative power—all laws, usages, and arrangements concerning the interest of the working community ; forming and directing public opinion, and making the artisan a citizen with a voice in the disposal of himself and his class. Not to look too far forward, however, in its humbler present capacity the Institute appears to be deserving of encouragement, not only by the work- ing people, but by those who believe that the weakness and debase- ment of that class do not conduce to the welfare of the country.
* " Le Compagnon du Tear de France."